The ‘India Freedom Report: Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in 2017’ by The Hoot says that the last year saw 11 journalists murdered (three clearly for reasons connected to their work), 46 attacks on journalists and 27 arrests and cases filed by police. The state-wise review and report enumerates defamation, self-censorship and internet shut-down cases among other parameters in its examination of the climate of free speech in the country.
In September, Gauri Lankesh, editor of the weekly Lankesh Patrike, was shot dead at her residence in Bengaluru. Two journalists – Sudip Datta Bhaumik of Syandan Patrika and Santanu Bhowmick of news channel Din Raat – were killed while covering clashes between rival tribal associations in Bodhjung Nagar by a Tripura State Rifles trooper. It was a year in which two journalists were shot at point blank range and killed, and one was hacked to death as police stood by and did not stop the mob.
Journalists faced attacks from police and from politicians, including journalists injured during the violence following the arrest of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Singh in August 2017. Television vans were set on fire while reporters and camera persons were injured in the clashes.
Andhra Pradesh saw the largest number of attacks on and threats to journalists and Maharashtra had the highest incidence of defamation with 19 cases in 2017, and the highest number of state actions for internet and social media related incidents was recorded in Karnataka. In Tamil Nadu, the number of defamation cases went down sharply to just seven. Delhi recorded a number of cases of defamation and instances of censorship and self-censorship.
State governments restricted media access to various events including the governments of Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Odisha, Rajasthan and West Bengal. Apart from censorship, the report also has a category called self-censorship, and 2017 had numerous examples including the Sahara-Birla papers, which most media houses did not cover, ‘perhaps because of the defamatory implications of reporting on this,’ the report says and other instances of either non-coverage or taking down stories from their websites included coverage of India falling three places in the international press freedom rankings in April last year based on an index of press freedom report by the global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
The year also saw a huge rise in the number of internet shutdowns imposed in various states – 77 against 31 the previous year. A shutdown was imposed in every month last year, in at least one part of the country. The highest number of cases was in Jammu and Kashmir (40) followed by Rajasthan (11), Haryana (eight), Bihar (three), Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, West Bengal, Nagaland and Odisha (two each), and Telangana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Chandigarh (one each).
The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.